Social media doesn’t just improve your business – it can help an entire business community! In Corvallis, Oregon, a group of local business owners called the Corvallis Social Media Brigade are working on projects that give the Corvallis business community higher visibility through the use of social media.
But many small business owners aren’t sure how to get involved, or what the benefit is to them and their companies. Here are five ways that use of social media can help business and things you can do to get started.
#1. Reviews of local businesses indicate a caring, involved community. So when a visitor comes looking for a restaurant or a place to stay or any other service, it’s evident that the city is an active and interesting place. This also doesn’t hurt when a community is seeking to attract other small businesses to locate here.
When you communicate to new people, you’re branding your business. You’re telling people what you do, how you treat customers and how you respond to both good and bad comments. As a part of the greater business community, you’re promoting the network of businesses too.
Action: Create a personal profile on Yelp.com. Commit to reviewing one business every month (every week is even better). Don’t just say you like the business; instead, cite specific things they do that are different from others or specific dishes you enjoy.
#2. Promote other businesses you work with and like. Share links and information on Facebook. Re-tweet what other local businesses are saying. Spread the word in a way that would be hard to do without the internet.
When you say nice things about others, they are likely to say nice things about you. That doesn’t mean that you want to say flattering things without cause. No, that’s not what this is all about – instead, it’s about using a different medium to share truthful information about your experiences with another local business.
Action: Go to the “Suggest to Friends” link under the logo on the top left and tell your Facebook friends about business pages you like, or that share useful information. (Not-so-subtle hint: Visual People has a Facebook fan page and we’d love to have you and your friends as fans.) Leave a comment on the wall of a business you appreciate.
#3a. Take advantage of new ways to reach a rapidly growing audience. In Corvallis, a college town, it’s important to communicate to the college-aged population through mutual use of the same technologies. But it’s not just kids who are using social media and mobile search – in fact, the highest adopters of social media right now are people in their 30s and 40s – those with money to spend at your business. The key is, to reach people using the tools that they are using, so you can appeal to them.
#3b. Be prepared to take advantage of your customers’ spur-of-the-moment needs. People are regularly using review sites like Yelp to check out local restaurants. It’s a huge relief to know what to expect at a dining establishment you’ve never tried. Other service-based businesses can take advantage of this too. Do you run a company that helps people with immediate needs – a mechanic, a plumber, a cleaning service? Make sure you are using social media tools, and ask customers and other business owners to become fans, review your business and share your tweets.
Action: If you don’t use social media for business at all, create a fan page or a profile on one service (we suggest creating a Facebook fan page or a business page on Yelp). If you’re using one but not others, explore what additional tools might help your business. Ask other small business owners what they are having success with or review Facebook, Twitter or Yelp to see how local businesses are using them.
#4. Blend your in-person and online interactions and networking. Online interaction only goes so far – you can meet and greet customers, potential customers and other business owners at the local events that are shared and promoted through social media. Network and meet business owners in person, then add them to your social network online.
Action: Use Facebook to tell others about an upcoming event you are having at your business or to plan your attendance at an event held at another businesses or local organization.
#5. Realize that constructive criticism can help your business. It hurts to get a bad review or comment online, but if you can take any useful information from the critique and use it to improve, you’re going to be better off. And you can read reviews of your friends and competitors to find out what things they are doing right and wrong.
If you are going to leave negative feedback about a business, think carefully. More than the average citizen, a local business owner does have to exercise caution in how he or she reviews others. Here’s a good rule of thumb: Try telling the business about your experience before you post it online. Talk to an employee, a manager or the business owner and try to reach a resolution before
Action: Write a short plan (a page should do) for how you will respond to feedback, both positive and negative. Assign an employee – or yourself – to monitor social media and respond to reviews and comments.
Have more questions about how to get started in social media, or how it can help your local business? Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below and we’ll answer them in an upcoming blog post. Let us know if we can use your name or if you prefer to remain anonymous!